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Note: This post is part of our Netflix Academy series. See background, and links to other educational videos worth streaming, here.

Constitution Day is Tuesday, which is an excellent opportunity to teach children about our nation’s founding (a subject required for study by the Common Core state standards).

That gave me an excuse to dig into the Netflix and Amazon archives to find videos that might be available that could help elementary school children learn about our founders, the Revolutionary War, and the big ideas of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

Unfortunately, there’s not much. Most of what’s online is a better fit for older students—probably middle schoolers—such as several of Ken Burns’ excellent documentaries.

But thanks to the wonderful animated shows Liberty’s Kids and the classic Schoolhouse Rock!, all is not lost.

As always, if I’ve missed something good that’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime, please let me know in the comments section below.

Best videos on George Washington and the American founders available for streaming

1. Liberty's Kids

Liberty's Kids

Aimed at seven- through twelve-year-olds, the series introduces kids to the American revolution through the eyes of two teenaged apprentice reporters—one from England and one from America—who experience firsthand the conflicts and events that shaped America. Famous names such as Walter Cronkite, Dustin Hoffman, Annette Bening, Michael Douglas,...

Sue, baby, sue!

Mike tries to goad an unflappable Michael Brickman into a fight on New York’s mayoral election, whether school choice is the only path to reform, and whether Arne Duncan is bullying California. Dara does the math on math teachers from TFA and Teaching Fellows.

Amber's Research Minute

The Effectiveness of Secondary Math Teachers from Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows Programs by Melissa A. Clark, et al., (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences, September 2013).

I liked Preston Smith from the very start.

We talked about sports and music, teased each other like high school friends, and bonded over stories of our young kids and smart, loving wives. We also shared a hardscrabble past and a set of small shoulder chips that produced in both of us a forward-leaning posture and an abiding passion for education reform.

But there’s so much more to Preston, the CEO and co-founder of Rocketship Education, maybe the hottest CMO in America. He made it out of a tough neighborhood, attended and excelled at a top-flight university, joined Teach For America, won awards for his extraordinary teaching, served as a founding principal in his early twenties, and then started the first Rocketship school—turning both into the highest performing schools in San Jose, CA.

He worked his way up through the organization, and when CEO John Danner resigned in early 2013, Preston, at only 33, took the organization’s helm and was charged with overseeing both its existing eight schools and audacious national growth plans.

I was lucky enough to be part of a two-year professional development program with Preston. I’ve been witness to everything from his thoughtful interpretation and explanation of complex texts, to his hilarious participation in late-night parlor games, to his fired-up commitment to organizing low-income families. And despite his laundry list of strengths, he shows great modesty (my recollection in the...

If you missed “A Back-To-School Conversation About Education” on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show with education secretary Arne Duncan and a panel of experts (including our own Mike Petrilli), here are the key takeaways:

  • Arne Duncan slams U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of U.S. colleges and talks up the Administration’s alternative;
  • Our Twitter klout score is nothing compared to Arne Duncan’s, something I was reminded of when guest host Susan Page asked about Duncan’s Tweet-heard-round-the-world on letting high school kids sleep later;
  • It’s possible Duncan overslept himself, since he was “not familiar” with the DOJ’s lawsuit against the Louisiana voucher program (yeah, right);
  • It’s bipartisan love when Duncan gives a shout out to Mike’s work on diversity in education and Mike is said to be more positive on Duncan than the liberal panelist (Richard Rothstein)
  • Mike gives his view on Common Core: the Feds should stay out, it’s state-led, and content is back, baby!

Listen to the recording here.

Behind the rise of Bill de Blasio in the race for New York City Mayor is his proposal to raise taxes (mainly on the rich) to pay for universal pre-K throughout the city. More schools for toddlers is always a winning campaign promise and, as de Blasio is right to assert, states and cities need to do better at preparing their youngest and most at-risk children to succeed in school. Pre-K today in New York, as in most places, is a fragmented potpourri of private and public programs—some very good, others not so much. For every Abbott Preschool Program, there is a Head Start center that does little to help children once they matriculate into elementary school. (I was once a student teacher at a Head Start site in New Orleans and saw both sides of the coin.)

Bill de Blasio photo from Wikipedia

If the goal of de Blasio is to close the achievement gap, stymieing the gap in a child’s formative years is much more rational strategy than waiting to combat the gap once it exists. For this reason, pre-K programs offer a great return on investment—if structured around improving cognitive functions, supplying essential knowledge and skills, and targeting the youngsters who are least likely to acquire those things at home. But that’s not exactly what de Blasio is proposing.

De Blasio proposes expanding access...

Note: This post is part of our Netflix Academy series. See background, and links to other educational videos worth streaming, here.

I love the dinosaur stage. Love, love, love. And when your child is ready to graduate from Dinosaur Train and take in some lifelike depictions of prehistoric monsters, this is where to start.

Walking with Dinosaurs is hard to beat, as are its cousins, Walking with Monsters (pre-dinosaur animals) and Walking with Beasts (post-dinosaur). The entire Walking series has a great narrative and is dominated by lifelike scenes of animals in action. The rest of these shows focus more on modern-day paleontologists—a great window into science but a tougher sell for short attention spans.

If I’ve missed something good that’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime, please let me know in the comments section.

Best dinosaur videos available for streaming

1. Walking with Dinosaurs

Walking with Dinosaurs

Using cutting-edge computer-generated imagery, this Emmy Award–winning series brings to life the Cretaceous, Triassic, and Jurassic periods, focusing on individual dinosaurs, or dinosaur families, to show the ever-changing Earth through their eyes.

Length: Six 29-minute episodes

Rating: TV-G

  

 

2. Allosaurus: A...

The rapid gentrification of many large American cities represents a triumph and an opportunity for Republicans—a triumph because it was mainly Republican ideas (welfare reform, aggressive crime-fighting tactics, pro-growth policies) that set the trend in motion, and an opportunity because the wealthier and (frankly) whiter new residents are more likely to vote for the GOP.

Cities are for strivers

Yet a natural Republican constituency—parents with children—continues to exit cities once their kids reach school age. This is bad for Republicans, to be sure, but it’s also bad for cities, as much capital—human, social, and financial—decamps for the suburbs and beyond.

So why are twenty-something, single city-dwellers turning into thirty- and forty-something, suburban moms and dads? It’s education, stupid: the paucity of high-quality urban public schools.

Some hope that current education-reform efforts—raising standards, holding teachers accountable, and creating more charter schools—could help persuade these parents to keep the faith with big cities. And they might, at the margins. But most of these efforts don’t address the fundamental challenge that urban schools face: the diversity of their student population.

Let me be clear: I don’t mean racial or ethnic diversity, which is a huge plus for everybody—the students, the parents, and society at large. Nor is it exactly socioeconomic diversity. The big challenge is academic diversity: Students are coming into school with vastly different levels of academic preparation. Finding a way to make sure that everyone gets what they need—including...

Amanda Ripley delivers a familiar admonishment to a new generation of Americans: The (mediocre) schools we have are the schools we deserve. In her first—and quite excellent—book on education, Ripley skillfully communicates this message through the experiences of teenaged U.S. exchange students inserted into three countries—Finland, South Korea, and Poland—for one year. All three countries have made recent leaps and bounds in educational achievement, and all three approach education in different ways: Finland’s “Utopia” model relies on highly trained, autonomous teachers and effective school choice. South Korea’s “Pressure Cooker” approach demands hard work in an ultra-competitive environment. And Poland’s “Metamorphosis,” which began in the late 1990s, focuses on rigor; accountability; high expectations; and district, school, and classroom autonomy. So with her veteran-journalist cap firmly in place, the author visits each of the three students in their host countries to compare their experiences—and perhaps gain insight as to why American students have lost ground. According to Ripley, American culture is a root cause of our education failings, including what parents want in a school, what kids learn at home, or officials’ unwillingness (or inability) to change teacher training, accountability systems, and curriculum. For instance, unlike the Finnish, we shield our children from failure and we don’t train our teachers like we train doctors, with ultra-selective schools, challenging graduate programs, and commensurate pay. And unlike all three of the nations featured, we lack a sense of urgency and the conviction that effective, rigorous education is the only thing...

The Washington Post (and many others) roundly decried the Department of Justice’s petition to disallow Louisiana from awarding vouchers to students in public schools under federal desegregation orders. Surely it’s folly to block students (mainly black and all poor) from escaping failing schools to which they would otherwise be condemned—and it’s outrageous to claim that this is good for civil rights. As 90 percent of the kids benefiting from Louisiana’s voucher program are African American, Gadfly cannot help but suspect political motives. We join the chorus: Shame on the Department of Justice for standing between disadvantaged children and their education dreams.

Massachusetts, with the nation’s highest-performing school system, models the power of comprehensive standards-based reform. As noted by the New York Times, the Bay State’s standards—like the Common Core—refrain from prescribing curriculum and pedagogy, meaning that teachers decide how to get their pupils across the finish line. There’s far more to the Massachusetts story, of course, including a higher bar, more money, charter schools, individual student-level accountability and tougher requirements to enter teaching. But it’s a story worth telling and retelling.

As the time draws closer for Congress to focus on reauthorizing the federal Institute of Education Sciences, the New York Times did a decent job of profiling the difference that it has made, particularly its emphasis on randomized studies—i.e. research based on clinical trials that test, for example, whether particular education...

Always a bridesmaid edition

Mike and Michelle join the WaPo in decrying the DOJ’s anti-voucher antics and debate who’s worse: private school parents or those who settle for failing schools. With Amber off saying “I do,” Dara takes over the research minute with a tale of unfair teacher-pension policies.

Amber's Research Minute

Better Pay, Fairer Pensions: Reforming Teacher Compensation by Josh McGee and Marcus A. Winters, Center for State and Local Leadership, Civic Report No. 79 (New York, NY: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, September 2013).

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